Despite the precautions and prevention measures health care providers take, there has been a dramatic increase in data breaches over the past decade, with breaches reaching their peak in 2020/2021. With the pandemic being in full force during this time, there was a desperate need for quick technological services in the health care field. The speed at which this technology was being created caused data security and privacy issues. Thus, cybersecurity has become a hot topic in health care over the past decade. How can we all work to prevent data breaches in health care settings?
According to IBM X-Force’s latest Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average breach costs the health care industry $10 million annually. This is 80% higher than the global average of $4.35 million. The health care industry has remained the costliest industry for breaches for the past 12 years. It takes around 11 months to identify and contain a breach in the health care industry.
But why would cybercriminals want to go after health care information more than any other personal identifying information? Health care data is often considered extremely valuable to hackers and cybercriminals primarily because it cannot change. If someone steals your debit card information, your bank cancels your old card and issues you a new one. If someone steals your health care information, you don’t get to cancel your health records and make new ones. Health care information is permanent, and, therefore, much more valuable on the dark web.
Adding even more fuel to the fire, patient records are often shared and copied on technology that is old or unsafe. Most machines in medical settings (e.g., x-ray machines, copiers, CT scanners, etc.) communicate with one another. The interoperability of these systems is a gold mine for hackers. Once they have access to patient data in one machine, it’s only a matter of time before they have access to the data on all the other machines.
Security Risk Analysis
Given the cost that it takes to recover from a data breach, it is critical that health care institutions invest in higher security measures to avoid paying the high cost of recovery in the future. One of the easiest (and most effective) ways to protect patients’ health information is to perform an annual security risk analysis (SRA). Not only is this a HIPAA requirement, but it’s also a smart business practice. All patient data is subject to the HIPAA Security Rule, which requires entities to evaluate risks and vulnerabilities in their environment and implement appropriate security measures to protect patient health data.
The Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC) has completed more than 1,600 SRAs for practices all across the state for nearly 10 years. We use proprietary tools and processes that address the key SRA components: technical, administrative, and physical safeguards. Our expertise and in-depth knowledge of HIPAA compliance standards and SRA requirements help ensure that our on-site assessments (virtual or in-person) ensure that practices keep patient data safe.
Conducting an SRA will provide your practice with the following services:
- Aligning policies and procedures with HIPAA standards
- Developing custom privacy and security policies and procedures
- Identifying and documenting potential threats, vulnerabilities, and possible impacts to your operations
- Providing guidance on documenting corrective actions needed to mitigate identified risks
- Delivering report findings and supporting documentation
- Performing virtual desktop reviews of your existing policies and procedures
- Consulting, educating, and guiding your staff on HIPAA best practices
- Reducing your clinical staff burden
AFMC’s SRA Resources page includes fliers, promotional materials, webinars, and newsletters that health organizations can utilize for their own benefit. These free resources can serve as a guide for providers and other health care professionals to promote cybersecurity. You can sign for a free consultation here.
Additional Security Measures
In addition to SRAs, providers and health care professionals can also take additional steps to ensure that patient information is safeguarded:
- Perform annual cybersecurity checks annually to ensure compliance with HIPAA security and technology standards
- Utilize only reliable third-party vendors for ongoing IT maintenance
- Train and educate staff regularly on security and cybersecurity procedures, risks, and best practices
- Communicate consequences for noncompliance with cybersecurity standards
- Keep electronic devices with patient data under supervision, including having staff log out of devices not in use
- Schedule frequent anti-malware and anti-phishing checks
- Restrict use of personal devices in the workplace
- Keep all systems up to date
- Set up a separate Wi-Fi network for guests and visitors to use to ensure no unauthorized users have access to patient information
- Employ an in-house manager for IT
- Establish a regular testing process
- Change passwords on critical staff portals and systems frequently
Cloud-based Platforms: Most modern health care technology uses cloud storage to ensure that best security practices are enforced. Many people are leery of cloud storage due to a large amount of data being stored off-site but switching to cloud-based applications actually helps improve cybersecurity and is a much safer choice for storing patient data. The leading vendors of cloud-based products regularly update their products and equipment and frequently monitor the system to expose any possible vulnerabilities or risks. These vendors also comply with HIPAA and GDP requirements.
Encryption: Other tools that can improve the safety of stored data are encryption systems. 256-bit encryption and blockchain technologies increase your data security. Safely storing data in multiple geographical locations and high-level encryption will further secure your data.
Backups: Most modern software automatically backs up data instantly. However, if your software does not, be sure to schedule frequent backups to ensure your data won’t be lost.
While these features are important, there are more features you can implement into your security systems to ensure that patient data is as safe and secure as possible. Depending on your organization’s workflow and needs, you should contact a team of professional technological developers to discuss what security measures work best for your team. If you work with your team to establish a clear cybersecurity plan, you can limit any data breaches that may occur in your practice.